Awaaz, IIT Kharagpur had the pleasure of getting to know more about one of the most enthusiastic researchers IIT Kgp has produced – Mr. Siddartha Khastgir. He has made a big contribution to the research environment among undergraduates at IIT Kharagpur. He has rightly proved that nothing stands between you and your passion if you have the courage to follow it no matter how difficult the path ahead may seem. In his words, “It’s never over … depends on where you put the full-stop.”
Mr. Khastgir is currently a PhD Researcher at the University of Warwick where his research is focused on developing new methods and knowledge necessary to test driverless cars to ensure their dependability and to make them commercially viable and is consequently accelerating their introduction. He is also a UK Representative to the ISO Technical Committee for developing international standards in the field of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and Automated Driving (AD).
He transformed his childhood fascination for cars into his passion and finally building up his career in research. His passion for automobiles first came to notice when he founded TeamKART-Formula SAE Team of IIT Kharagpur, the first ever Formula Student/SAE project at IIT Kharagpur. Through his talent and dedication he got the first breakthrough when he procured a funding of INR 1 million from the Sponsored Research and Industrial Consultancy (SRIC) IIT Kharagpur. This was the largest funding ever by IIT for a student led project. He was also involved in the AUV project where he represented India at the AUVSI’s 14th International Robosub competition at San Diego, USA, after having won the National event in Chennai organized by National Institute of Ocean Technology, Chennai (Ministry of Earth Sciences, Govt. of India).
Apart from his research interests he is an ardent ManU fan and loves listening to music.Among many honours to his name is the TechWorks Young Engineer Under 30 Award 2017. Recently he has also been named in the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe 2018- Industry List for research contributions which have delivered impact to the automotive industry. Through his hard work fuelled by the right amount of enthusiasm he becomes an inspiration for the youth all over the country. Read more about his inspiring journey at IIT Kharagpur and abroad in continuation of our series “Jewels of KGP”.
Awaaz: Congratulations on making it to the Europe 30 Under 30-Industry List. How do you feel and how special is it for you?
While it came as a big surprise to me, I feel extremely honoured and excited to be recognised in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe 2018 Industry list. Meeting fellow 30 Under 30 from across Europe at the 30 Under 30 launch event in London was really inspiring with many interesting conversations. I feel humbled to be in such illustrious company.
Awaaz: When and why did you make up your mind to pursue Mechanical Engineering?
Right from childhood, I was always fascinated by cars. Be it collecting hot-wheels cars (I took a lot of pride in my collection!) or religiously following Formula-1 races on the television. After class 12th, I was forced to make a decision – to choose between two good paths! Either pursue medicine (and be a cardiac surgeon – another of my dreams), or pursue Mechanical Engineering at KGP! I am glad, I chose the latter as it has been an enriching journey with its fair share of ups and downs, but an extremely satisfying and rewarding journey.
Awaaz: How do you see the contributions of IIT Kharagpur in defining your career path and developing you as person?
In all fairness, KGP defined me as a person and I owe a lot to the institute. KGP provided me (and many others) with an enabling platform to challenge the status quo in engineering and education. That ability and confidence has helped me create a positive change in the organizations I have been associated with.
Awaaz: What do you like to do when you are not working ? What was your experience with extra-curricular activities during your stay at IIT-KGP?
I try to keep my weekends free for Manchester United matches. I am an avid ManU follower. I used to go crazy in the RK common room during ManU matches! I am very superstitious when it comes to ManU. Apart from that, I love to listen to music.
During my time at KGP, my extra-acads life was only until the end of 2nd year. I did drams, basketball, choreo, tech-GC events etc. 3rd year onwards I was consumed with setting up Team KART and getting the car running.
Awaaz: You have led various research project teams right from the start such as TeamKART and AUV team at IIT Kharagpur itself to becoming a part of ISO Technical Committee and ImechE International Young Member Committee (IYMC). What is the secret to your leadership skills and what do you consider the most important aspect of teamwork?
I believe that not many people are born as great leaders. However, everyone has a potential to become a great leader by learning from every experience and listening to the feedback from others. When I started at KGP, I wouldn’t consider myself as a good leader, however, with every experience I had of leading teams, every personal failure I had, every hard time the team went through; taught me the nuances of leadership. By the time I graduated, I learnt so much from my juniors (in Team KART and the AUV team), I felt I could lead diverse teams.
It was not until my time in FEV in Germany, that I really enhanced my skills. Leading a team of your peers or juniors (like I did in KGP) is great, but leading a team with different nationalities and people almost twice your age is a very different experience. However, the learnings I had from my time at KGP helped me immensely.
According to me, there are two key secrets to leadership: 1) Respect everyone and 2) empower your teammates. Respecting others, earns you their respect which is essential for a successful team.
Being a part of the ISO technical committee, we have to respect each country’s stance, their culture and come to a consensus. I am applying everything I learnt in KGP and in Germany while I lead the development of a new international standard on low-speed automated driving systems.
Awaaz: How did you keep your spirits up when you felt low? What is the biggest motivation you find in the testing times of your career?
I am a perineal optimist (with a pinch of realism!). To keep it short, I live by a quote:
“It’s never over…depends on where you put the full-stop.”
Awaaz: With technology change taking place at this pace, what should be the approach of an Undergrad Engineer to keep himself updated about the latest research? Also, what changes in UG level education can make such projects more accessible?
In today’s world, more than ever before, one has to remain a student forever. You have to keep reading about new things, re-train yourself or upskill yourself with the new technological developments. Online education has been the biggest boon of 21st century bringing education to everyone. More importantly, today’s engineers need to have the skillset to be able to apply their theoretical prowess and turn that into practical brilliance.
Today’s mechanical engineers are no longer just mechanical engineers. They need to be electronic engineers and electrical and computer science engineers. The silos of engineering have been broken. The education system needs to follow suit. More inter-disciplinary research and UG/PG projects need to be promoted.
Awaaz: Tell us about your current research projects at University of Warwick and also your aims for the near future?
Currently I am working on Autonomous Vehicles (a.k.a driverless cars). More specifically, I am concerned in how to establish and evaluate the safety of these vehicles. I am involved in creating virtual and real-world test methods for testing connected and autonomous vehicles. This research is a part of over £60 million worth of project work being undertaken by WMG in this area.
My immediate aims are to ensure the safe deployment of these vehicles on UK roads and ensure we create robust international standards for these vehicles. I do believe that autonomous vehicles have the potential to change our way of life, but only if they themselves are safe.
Awaaz:There are many students who are left wanting for funds for their ideas or projects. You procured the highest funding ever by an IIT for a student led project at TeamKART. How challenging was it and how did you make it possible?
I think KGP has the best administration and a very enabling one for students. If you really want something, and if it has the potential to benefit you as well as the institute, I am sure the institute will find a way to support you. You just have to keep trying. Most of the time students forget to focus on how the project would benefit the institute. When we ask the institute for support, we need to demonstrate the benefit to the institute.
For me, it took six months of constant discussions with professors, Deans and the Director to finally get the project approval. I have to say that I was extremely fortunate that PPC Sir was at that time Dean SRIC and he believed in the project, along with Prof Sunando Dasgupta (SDG) (Associate Dean, SRIC, at the time). I still remember SDG Sir in our second meeting said: “if you can make this happen, you would have contributed a lot to IIT KGP”.
For our project, getting funds from the institute was much easier than getting the car ready. I am grateful to all the team members over the years, who gave their best to ensure we got the cars running. Also, the project wouldn’t have been possible without the support and guidance from Prof A R Mohanty, Prof. C. S Kumar, Prof Kingshook Bhattacharyya, Prof Suman Chakraborty, Prof Ranjan Bhattacharyya and the entire ME department.
Awaaz: Any message you would like to give to the students of IIT Kharagpur.
IIT KGP offers a unique opportunity to every student to lose your inhibitions and grow as an individual, both in academics and extra-academics. Don’t let go of this opportunity! Believe in yourself, be realistically optimistic and make it count…